[pullquote align=right] BDS is an understandable reaction by frustrated people eager to make a contribution toward the ending of this conflict.
[/pullquote]Recently, If Not Now leader Sarah Brammer-Shlay penned an article in JewSchool about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Though she admitted to not spending “the majority of her time” lending assistance to the movement, she supports the movement itself as a legitimate means to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
I share her frustrations with the American Jewish community. Its obfuscation of the reality of the occupation, the explicit and implicit support for the tactics used to subjugate the Palestinians, and the complete close-mindedness when confronted with evidence of brutality are all things that trouble me deeply about our community. I also agree that the BDS movement is not inherently anti-Semitic, though some factions of it may very well be. It is at Sarah’s conclusion, however, where we part ways. She posits that BDS is simply one way of many to achieve the goal we all share, which is an end to the occupation. She compares the BDS movement to other sanction movements in the past, like South Africa’s exclusion from the international community.
Israel’s situation, however, is different in important ways from South Africa’s and the impacts that sanctions had on that country, whatever those may be, will be different than the impacts that sanctions will have on Israel. Additionally, the real economic impact that international sanctions had on South Africa were not particularly debilitating. The sanctions won a psychological victory that effectively isolated the South African regime from the international community, a tactic that simply is not working with Israel; as Israel grows increasingly isolated from Europe, the United States is poised to elect one of Israel’s closest allies to the presidency, Hilary Clinton. Israel is also engaged in establishing diplomatic ties with far-flung nations, like India and China, and Israel’s new government, arguably the most right-wing in its history, balks at the idea that the international community would dictate terms to the Jewish State.
[pullquote align=left] I share her frustrations with the American Jewish community.
[/pullquote]There are myriad differences between South Africa and Israel. For one, the conflict between the white minority and black majority in South Africa was a conflict over the institutions of one state over mostly one piece of defined territory. In simple terms, the white regime held access to power and controlled the institutions of the state. The black resistance wished to broaden its access to power and, being the majority, wanted its power in the institutions of the state to reflect their status as the majority. This inevitably led to a conflict of interests. The white minority, eager to defend their hold on power, could not trust that the black majority would not expropriate the ruling white elites once having gained access to the halls of power. The black majority could not credibly commit to maintaining the property rights and general well-being of the white minority because once they took power, all bets were off. In the event, Nelson Mandela was a man for his time, courageous enough to be willing to make concessions (like supporting a bi-racial state) to the ruling elite who had subjugated blacks for decades. Economic concerns also carried the day. The white elite, after years in control of the state, were the richest in the country. They controlled the capital and the financial institutions and therefore constituted the bedrock of South Africa’s economic stability. It was not in the black resistance’s interest to prey on the white elite, because this would encourage capital flight out of the country and lead to increasing economic instability. What developed was mutual understanding and reconciliation due to an aligning of interests.
[pullquote align=right] Israelis and Palestinians, on the other hand, have grown increasingly separated
[/pullquote]Can the same be said for Israel? The international community at large hopes for a two-state solution to the conflict. The Palestinians increasingly have no interest in the economic stability of Israel, especially since BDS makes it harder for West Bank companies to operate, therefore separating Palestinian labor from Israeli capital. If we’ve learned anything from the South African case, it’s that economic concerns trump most other interests. As Philip Levy notes in his 1999 paper on the fall of South African apartheid, the inefficiencies of the South African labor market under apartheid did more to disrupt apartheid policies than the sanctions themselves. Government policies that excluded blacks from certain areas and jobs resulted in decreased growth and economic stagnation. As growth slowed, South Africa’s government realized the effects that these policies were having on their own economic stability, and consequently took measures to ease apartheid restrictions on black workers, further intertwining the fates of South Africa’s whites and blacks.
Israelis and Palestinians, on the other hand, have grown increasingly separated, even as political realities on the ground are drawing them closer together. It is understandable that organizations that support the two-state solution would be against economic interdependence and get behind movements like BDS. Economic normalization binds the Palestinians to the Israeli economy, restricting their ability to disrupt the occupation and demand more political rights because they fear of losing access to the economy. But there are benefits to economic interdependence. If Palestinians can make themselves integral to the economies of Israel’s cities, as they have in Jerusalem, it gives them further power and leverage to demand concessions from Israel. Increased economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians also encourages bottom-up changes, as everyday Israelis and Palestinians come into contact with one another, which fosters understanding, humanization and cooperation.
[pullquote align=left] Outside forces, if they are even effective, cannot be expected to really solve the conflict.
[/pullquote]That is the real key to long-lasting peace; bottom-up changes that mold the perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians, that change their realities. Outside forces, if they are even effective, cannot be expected to really solve the conflict. If Israel is forced to relax some aspects of the occupation because of outside pressure, that does nothing to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians. It will certainly empower the Palestinians, and perhaps embolden the more extremist factions in the Palestinian community. The Palestinians need to know that Israel is a partner for peace, just as Israelis must know that the Palestinians are willing to forgo armed resistance in favor of mutual agreement and respect; in a word, they need to trust each other. Furthermore, if the Israeli, in the future, make real steps toward peace, their olive branch could be undermined if the Palestinians see this as a victory for the international community and not a genuine attempt at reconciliation by the Israelis. At their core, concessions brought about because of sanctions are artificially constructed and do not result in concrete peace. Only a change in perspectives, understanding between the two sides of the conflict, and interdependence that results in an aligning of interests can bring real peace and reconciliation.
BDS is an understandable reaction by frustrated people eager to make a contribution toward the ending of this conflict. It also signals a positive trend in favor of non-violent means toward conflict resolution. But we must ask ourselves, what will really end the conflict, what will really bring lasting peace and security to the Israelis and Palestinians? BDS, most likely, will not bring the kind of peace we want. The conflict is too entrenched, the political realities too complicated.
[pullquote align=right] Whether you picture a one-state or two-state future, cooperation is key to the security and prosperity of these two peoples.
[/pullquote]Opposing outside measures like BDS, however, is not enough. Clearly, Israel’s occupation has continued for fifty years without a massive sanctions campaign. However, if we want true reconciliation instead of just the shadow of peace, we must pursue grassroots campaigns that encourage cooperation, social, economic, and political, between Israelis and Palestinians. The key is not separation, but cooperation and understanding. This does not entail an end to the two-state solution, however unlikely that particular settlement is becoming. Two-states, with such intertwined histories, fates, and geography, cannot maintain stability in complete economic, social, and political isolation from one another. A future hypothetical Palestinian state will almost certainly be landlocked. History shows that landlocked states are prone to instability; outside of Europe, not a single landlocked state that exists today can be considered a success when measured on the Human Development Index. The Palestinian state will need, absolutely, access to Israel’s markets and ports, otherwise the odds are likely it will collapse rather than prosper.
To conclude, whether you picture a one-state or two-state future, cooperation is key to the security and prosperity of these two peoples, not anathema to it. And that is the path we must choose.